An Oral History of ALF

During the 1983-’84 television season, NBC managed to set a record: all nine of their new shows had tanked badly. A normal response would be to try something different, but TV executives are not known for taking chances. A puppeteer named Paul Fusco had an idea about an alien named ALF that moves in with a suburban family. What did they have to lose? He met with network executives for the pitch.  

Fusco: We set up a meeting with the VIPs at NBC. It was Brandon, Leslie Lurie, and Warren Littlefield. I walked in carrying a brown garbage bag with ALF in it, but I didn’t tell them that. I asked where I could do my laundry.

[Associate Producer Steve] Lamar: It was probably a Hefty bag.

[ALF Co-Creator and Writer] Patchett: You can't pitch a primetime show where the lead is a puppet unless you see it.

Fusco: We go into this conference room and sit at this long table. I threw the bag under it. Brandon was at the head and I was next to him, with Tom next to me. We go into the pitch—alien crashes into this house, lives with the family, it’s funny. And I could see in their eyes that we’re losing them. Bernie whispers to me, "Take him out."

Patchett: There's no way you can look at what Paul does with the character and not laugh.

Fusco: I pull him out and sit him next to me. People were just silent. They didn’t expect it. Bernie said, "Listen, before you guys pass on the show, we wanted you to meet ALF."

Patchett: That was absolutely the thing that put it over the top.

Fusco: So ALF is sitting there and not saying anything. He looks around the room, sizing everyone up. He looks at Brandon, picks his nose, and wipes it on Brandon’s jacket. The room went crazy.

Patchett: He just started raining insults at people.

That was just the beginning of ALF, the show that became a phenomenon in the '80s. Thirty years later, we remember ALF fondly even though it seems even weirder now than it did then. Read the rest of the story behind the show, told by those who were there, at mental_floss.

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